Radishes are low in calories and will keep you hydrated during a summer heatwave

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Image by Peter Skitterians from PixabayImage by Peter Skitterians from PixabayRadishes are one of the quickest and easiest vegetables to grow almost all year round in South Africa.  They are the perfect low-calorie summer vegetable, and because of their high water content, if you eat radish in summer - it will help to keep your body hydrated.

For many South Africans radishes are a simple vegetable which is most often small, round and red, with a sharp taste from the mustard oils in its roots, and what makes them a welcome salad garnish. Sometimes we see long, white Daikon radishes in the store or thin slices at a Japanese restaurant, but the little red ones remain the most popular.

Radish sprouts. Image by rybson4891 from PixabayRadish sprouts. Image by rybson4891 from PixabayRadishes belong to the Brassicaceae family, commonly known as the mustards, the crucifers, or the cabbage family. Although there is no archaeological proof to show exactly when and where mankind started domesticating radishes, for a long time it was considered that radish most likely originated in the area between the Mediterranean and the Caspian Sea, from where it spread to the East, appearing in India, central China, and Central Asia. However, it is possible that radishes were domesticated in both Asia and Europe, and recent studies show that Asian cultivated radish cannot be traced back to European cultivated forms which spread to Asia, so it is entirely possible that they originated from a still unknown wild species that is different from the wild ancestor of European cultivated radish, and because wild variants still grow in southwest China, this is highly probable.

Cultivated radish and its uses were recorded in China nearly 2000 years ago, and they are still an important part of Chinese cuisine. Herodotus (c. 484-424 BC,) a Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus in the Persian Empire (modern-day Bodrum, Turkey) recorded that radish was one of the important crops in ancient Egypt, as it was depicted on the walls of the Pyramids about 4000 years ago. The ancient Greeks also revered the radish, making small gold replicas of them to offer to the God Apollo. Both the ancient Greeks and Romans had detailed records on radishes where they even document different types like: small, large, round, long, mild, and sharp.

Arriving in northern Europe by the 13th century by way of monastery gardens, radishes were of interest due to their healing capabilities. The monks used radish juice for airway problems such as bronchitis, or for rheumatism or gall bladder problems, and the seeds were used for their digestive, carminative, and expectorant qualities. In The Middle Ages, in both Europe and the Orient, there was a fascination with giant radishes, and in 1544 a German botanist reported seeing radishes weighing 100 pounds!  

Radishes quickly worked their way into cottage gardens, but the round, red radish we know today was only bred in the 1800’s. Radishes were one of the first vegetables introduced into the New World, and were already under cultivation in Mexico in the 1500’s and in Haiti by 1565. Radishes quickly caught on in North America, and by 1848 there were 8 different varieties listed there. And so the journey of the humble radish continued, and today radishes are grown throughout the world, and the local people have adopted them into their cuisines and even their cultures.

Radish 'German Giant'Radish 'German Giant'In Oaxaca, Mexico, December the 23rd is known as “The Night of the Radishes” or “Noche de Los Rábanos” in Spanish. This is an annual event dedicated to a competition where contestants carve oversized radishes into unbelievable figures and scenes. (Click here to see images) The event has its origins in the colonial period when radishes were introduced by the Spanish. The people of Oaxaca have a long tradition of wood carving, and one year, at the Christmas market held in the main town square, the farmers began carving radishes to attract their customers’ attention, and people loved the art so much that the radish festival became a beautiful cultural tradition which continues today.

The early domestication of radishes and human selection of preferred types has led to significant variations in the size, shape, colour, and taste of this vegetable.  Among them are the small-rooted radishes which are grown in temperate regions of the world, and the larger-rooted cultivars like Chinese radish, which are predominant in East and Southeast Asia. Cultivars come in shades of pink to rose-red and scarlet, pure white, yellow and green, right through to purple and black, and all these amazing cultivars are available in South Africa from heirloom seed suppliers online.

(Radish ‘German Heirloom) is a traditional Amish variety which dates back to 18th Germany, but remains a favourite with gardeners because these large, fist-sized radishes seem to grow before your very eyes, and although they are huge, they remain beautifully crisp, and don't become hollow, pithy, or bitter. Use them fresh in salads, on sandwiches, or in stir fries. German Giant is especially great for pickles, and the young green leaves can be steamed or sautéed and served with butter and lemon juice as a healthy side dish. Even the fresh young seed pods have a nice radish bite, and can be used anywhere you’d use snap peas. They are delicious raw, stir-fried, or pickled, and if you allow your plants to set seed to harvest, these are excellent for sprouting.

(Radish 'Giant Butter Globe) is an Italian heirloom with a long history in Europe. The fairly large red roots are round and typically radish flavoured, but not overly hot, with a nice soft but crunchy texture. Typically radish is a cool weather crop which bolts quickly in spring and summer if it gets too hot, but giant butter globe is a much slower bolting variety.

(Radish 'Golden Helios') is a stunning Polish heirloom variety with a golden-yellow skin, and crisp white flesh with a mild flavour which does not become overly peppery. The mild flavour and lovely colour of this variety makes it perfect raw in salads, and for cooked recipes which call for a milder palate.

(Radish 'Hailstone') is a gorgeous heirloom garden variety with pure white skin, and superbly crisp white flesh with a lovely mild flavour. It was originally released in 1908 and must be one of the easiest and fastest growing radishes around - this old winner is ready to harvest from seed in just 25 to 30 days!

(Radish 'Watermelon') is an awesome radish with its colours inside-out! Its exterior is an insignificant, pale creamy-white, but when you cut it open its flesh is a delightful, dark watermelon pink.  This radish is one of the milder varieties with a definite sweet aftertaste which is perfect thinly sliced into salads, and is favoured by chefs for the dramatic interest it adds to cooked or raw dishes.

(Radish ‘Spanish Black’) is a large black radish that grows to the size of a turnip. It is thought to have originated in Asia, and is grown more for its medicinal uses than to eat. Black radish is known to aid digestion by stimulating the production of bile.

(Radish 'Champion') is your standard radish of old, with a bright red outer skin and white flesh. It has a great bite that improves with size and can be used in salads, stir-fries, or pickles.

(Radish ‘Sparkler’) has small round roots which are red with white tips. It has a mild peppery taste with a subtle sweetness, which is delicious raw, but slow roasting brings out the tenderness, richness and sweetness of this radish.

(Radish ‘Cherry Belle’) is one of most well-known and widely grown radishes in the world, and is loved for the bite of its small red roots, and its ease of growth.

(Radish ‘Easter Egg’) is a lovely mixture of small round radishes in a variety of colours which are guaranteed to brighten-up your salads and pickles.

(Radish 'Pink Beauty') is a small round radish with a soft pink skin and white flesh, making it a pretty addition to salads and pickles.

(Radish ‘Purple Plum’) is a round, medium-sized, deep purple radish which adds stunning flavour and colour contrast to salads, and is also great for cooking.

(Radish ‘White Icicle’) is a lovely long, tapered white radish, which grows really quickly and is used in the same way as daikon radish.

(Radish ‘French Breakfast’) is a very old heirloom variety which has been grown since about the 1880's. It produces long red roots with pretty white tips, and has a mild flavour which does just as well in gourmet dishes as it does for a quick snack.

(Radish ‘China Rose’) is a great winter radish that loves frost, and the stumpy sausage-shaped roots are a soft rose-pink, very crisp, and sweet and spicy at the same time. Dating back to the 1840's this is a really old heirloom variety which is believed to have descended directly from wild variations in Asia and not from garden selections as most other varieties were.

Radish 'Hailstone'Radish 'Hailstone'Uses:

Radishes are used in very different ways around the world. In China and Japan, most of the radish crop is pickled in brine, similar to the way we pickle cucumbers. In China some large radishes are grown for the oil in their seeds. In India, the rat-tailed radish is grown for its fleshy edible seed pods which reach a length of 30cm, and in Egypt, one type of radish is grown for its top greens only.

Health Benefits:

Radishes are low in calories and high on fibre, improving digestion and regulating bile production, safeguarding your liver and gall bladder. If you to eat radish in summer, it will also help keep the body hydrated because of its high water content, and according to Ayurvedic medicine, one of the world's oldest holistic healing systems developed approximately 3000 years ago in India, radish is believed to have a cooling effect on the blood.

Radishes are a good source for anthocyanins which keep our hearts functioning properly, and reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases. It also plays an important role in the generation of collagen, which in turn boosts our blood vessels and decreases our chances of getting atherosclerosis - a disease in which plaque builds up inside your arteries. Radish also provides your body with potassium, which can help lower your blood pressure, and keep your blood flow in control, especially if you are known to suffer from hypertension.

Red radish is packed with Vitamins E, A, C, B6, and K. Plus it's high on antioxidants, fibre, zinc, potassium, phosphorous, magnesium, copper, calcium, iron and manganese. And each of these is known to keep our body in good working condition. Given that radish has high vitamin C content, it can protect you from the common cold and improve your immune system. It also controls the development of harmful free radicals and inflammation. This root vegetable is not only good for your digestive system; it also helps to fix water retention, acidity, obesity, gastric problems, and nausea, among others.

If you drink radish juice every day, you're giving your skin special boosters to stay healthy, and that's mostly because of the Vitamin C, zinc, and phosphorus.

Image by Bernadette Wurzinger from PixabayImage by Bernadette Wurzinger from PixabayIn the Kitchen:

Radish cultivars vary in taste from almost sweet to those with a strong peppery bite, and if you thought there’s only so much you could do with radish, like slicing it thinly in a salad, or making a refreshing sandwich with it, think again! There are plenty of inventive and delicious ways to maximise this vegetable.

They’re so good cooked, and can be sautéed, or roasted together with a variety of ingredients.  Try roasted chicken with radish, which can also include mustard, lemon juice and honey, and herbs like tarragon and thyme.

German radish and potato soup “rettich kartoffel suppe“ is hearty, healthy, and easy to make. In Germany, the word "rettich" is the word for any and all types of radish, but most often refers to larger radishes like “daikon” or winter radishes known as “black Spanish.” In southern Germany, white radish is also called "bier rettich" or bierwurz," because they are often served, thinly sliced and salted, as a light meal in beer gardens, together with fresh bread and butter, and of course  a mug of beer!

If you love Indian food, try making the famous Indian radish chutney from the south-east of the country, called “mullangi pachadi.” It is easy to make with red or white radishes, and is mildly spiced, with a nutty aroma. It is served as a side dish for South Indian breakfast dishes like: “idli” - a type of savoury rice cake; “dosai” - a type of thin pancake made with a fermented rice batter, and similar to a crepe in appearance; “appam” - a slightly thicker type of pancake, made with fermented rice batter and coconut milk. This healthy Indian radish chutney tastes good with “roti” as well, and will have you reaching for it more and more.

There is a world of radish recipes out there - the tasty sprouts are healthy, the delicate little seedlings that were thinned out taste delicious raw in salads or as garnish, and the mature leaves can be cooked much like spinach, sautéed as a side dish, or added to a potato soup. Search for recipes online which you know will suit the tastes of you family – they are sure to be delighted!

Radishes can be harvested and stored in loosely sealed plastic bags in the refrigerator and will keep their flavour and crispness for a couple of weeks.

Radish 'Watermelon' Radish 'Watermelon' Companion Planting:

Companion planting is an age-old practice that allows mother nature to lend a helping hand in the garden. When certain plants are grown alongside one another, they can do everything from fending off insects to improving the taste and growth of vegetables. Radishes have a lot of friends in the vegetable garden, so learning which plants do especially well alongside radishes can improve the quality of all sorts of crops.

Organic gardeners frequently use fast-growing radish alongside, or even interspersed amongst slower maturing crops, as markers, or row markers. For example, they are great markers for carrots, beets and Swiss chard, because if sown at the same time, the radish will germinate within a week and mark where the carrots, beets, or chard are likely to appear some weeks later. The radishes will be ready, or almost ready to harvest by the time the slower crops are just emerging aboveground, or when they are still immature and won’t shade the radishes.

Radishes help repel cucumber beetles, which means cucumbers, with their long growing season requirements, are fantastic companion plants for radishes. Strong smelling herbs like nasturtium and species in the allium family, like leeks, onions, spring onions and chives are also beneficial for radish.

Good companions for radishes include: Lettuce, leeks, spinach, Swiss chard, carrots, beets, cucumbers, squashes, parsnips, onions, spring onions, tomatoes, peppers, beans, peas, chervil, chives, parsley, basil, and coriander. The herb hyssop is also not, however, compatible with radishes.

Even though radishes belong to the brassicaceae family, be cautious when planting radish near other brassicas, because radishes can attract flea beetles, which will damage the leaves of these plants. Brassica vegetables include: broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, all types of cabbage, kale, and turnips. Radish also does not like growing near potatoes.

Lots of flowers make good companion plants for radishes too. Light, lacy, upward reaching flowers like cosmos leave room for some radishes planted at their lower reaches, and even small plants like forget-me-not's, nasturtiums and verbena can have clumps of radishes growing between them until they fill in the gaps.

Radishes mature quickly enough to hold the attention of small children, and even if they won’t eat them, they will be delighted by their bright colours, and it would be fun to hold a radish competition to see who can grow the biggest radish. Young teens can even be tempted to participate in growing giant radishes, and to carve them into fantastical scenes, and if you tell them radishes will help to clear their skins, they are sure to want to eat them too.

Radish 'Hailstone'Radish 'Hailstone'Cultivation & Harvesting:

Radish is extremely easy to grow in full sun, and can be sown directly into garden beds or window boxes and other containers. Seed can be sown almost throughout the year in South Africa, however, in very hot summer regions, high temperatures may cause radishes to bolt, making them essentially useless.  Also, in very cold winter regions, June and July are not good months to sow seeds. Radishes grow quickly, and should be ready to harvest within 3 to 5 weeks, depending on the season, and the variety sown.

It’s best to plant radish seeds directly in the garden so as not to disturb their roots. Select a sunny spot - if radishes are planted in too much shade, or even where neighbouring vegetable plants shade them, they will put all their energy into producing larger leaves, rather than their edible roots.

All root crops require soil that has been thoroughly dug over, with all hard clumps of soil broken down and stones removed. This will prevent misshapen or stunted crops. Radishes will grow in almost any soil but a pH of 6 to 6.5 is ideal, and they thrive in light, sandy, well-drained soil, with added compost. If your soil is more clay-like, mix in lots of compost and washed river sand to loosen it and improve drainage. You could also grow them in raised beds, or pots. If you are using manure in your beds, ensure that it is very mature. If you are sowing into containers, use good-quality, fast-draining potting soil, mixed with some compost.

Add a sprinkling of organic 2:3:2 to the beds or pots and sow the seeds directly in shallow furrows about 1cm deep, cover with soil and pat down firmly before watering thoroughly. Germination should take place within 5 to 7 days, and the seedlings will need thinning out when they get their first true leaves. Thinning out is done to space them correctly, and will depend on the variety sown, so follow the instructions on your seed packet to get the correct spacing. For successive crops you need to sow seed every 3 to 4 weeks. Because radish matures so quickly, extra feeding won’t be necessary, even if you are growing radish in pots.

Always keep the soil consistently moist but not saturated, as a sudden lack of water, or alternatively, too much water, can spoil the quality of the crop by causing the roots to split open. Weeds will quickly crowd out radishes, so keep the beds weed-free by gently pulling them out by hand – tilling can damage the roots.

For most of the smaller varieties of radish it is best to harvest when the roots are no larger than 2cm in diameter at the soil surface. Do not leave radish too long in the soil, as this will cause them to lose their flavour, and they quickly become woody and tough. Pull one out and test it before harvesting the rest!

To prevent diseases from affecting your crop, practice three-year crop rotation. In other words, only plant radishes in the same spot, or pot, every third year.

Radish 'Sparkler' Picture courtesy www.ballstrathof.co.zaRadish 'Sparkler' Picture courtesy www.ballstrathof.co.zaProblems, Pests & Diseases:

Few pests bother radishes, but watch out for summer caterpillars which feed on the leaves, and remove them by hand. Snails and slugs will also need to be controlled. Aphids can be washed off with a strong jet of water, and beds containing cutworms in the soil can be treated before sowing. Watering in the morning will ensure that the leaves are totally dry by nightfall, thus helping prevent fungal diseases.

Cabbage root fly, which resembles common houseflies, are most problematic in late summer when their populations are high. They will lay their tiny, white, bullet-shaped eggs down around the main stem at the soil line of the plants. These hatch into cream-coloured maggots within 3 to 7 days. The maggots burrow into the roots, and if feeding is heavy the plants will wilt and even die.  To prevent outbreaks, regularly hoe the soil in winter where brassica plants were growing in summer. This exposes the cabbage root fly pupae to insectivorous birds, which will gladly gobble them up. When only a few plants need protection, a round of cardboard, slit in the middle and installed as a ‘skirt’ around the plants main stem (a cabbage collar) protects seedlings from adult cabbage root flies.   


The information contained within this website is for educational purposes only, documenting the traditional uses of specific plants as recorded through history. Always seek advice from a medical practitioner before starting a home treatment programme.